Fond of them

We launched the first State of Shared Lives in Scotland report this week in Dunfermline at a conference co-chaired by Asif who uses Shared Lives and Sandy Riddell, Director Health and Care for Fife, who has agreed to champion Shared Lives and said he saw our sector as being increasingly part of the emerging picture of social care in Scotland: “It’s about empowering communities, it’s about choice and control and it’s about enabling people to live independently.”

The report (here) sets out what Shared Lives is achieving in Scotland and also how much more work there is to do, with a number of areas still without a scheme, in contrast to the 100% coverage in Wales and Northern Ireland, and near 100% in England. Some key stats are:

  • 324 Shared Lives carers supporting 434 adults in Scotland, of the 12,000 supported UK-wide.
  • A third receive long term, another third day support and about a quarter short breaks.
  • The largest schemes support 60 – 70 people but 50% of schemes are used by fewer than 20 people.
  • If all schemes matched the biggest, they’d support 400 more people with learning disabilities alone and save £3m.

Those numbers don’t mean a huge amount on their own, but the presentations from Shared Lives carers and Roseanne Fearon, who founded and developed the Fife scheme over many years brought it to life. Roseanne was joined by Ethel Foy who she described as the ‘catalyst’ in founding the Fife Community living scheme and has been a Shared lives carer for 30 years, since she was a nurse in a long stay hospital which was closing. Some of the people had no family or friends and Ethel suggested one or two could live with her, as they knew and trusted her. Roseanne said, “I started to think, why wouldn’t we do that? Because if you couldn’t live with your own family or in your own place, why not live with an alternative family and the key thing for me was that you would inherit all of their friendships and their contacts and that would be really inclusive.”

“There is no magic wand: the Community Carers will show interest and patience and little by little the person relaxes and begins to develop new skills, strengths and confidence – you see the people blossom.

“We then realised that if family carers needed breaks from time to time, why not use a Community Carer? It would almost be like extending your own family.

Kenny has lived with Ethel for 22 years now. “Kenny is now part of the family. He has a girlfriend but he says he’s not leaving until he gets married!” Ethel’s two daughters and grandson are now Shared Lives carers themselves.

The words ‘grow’, ‘flourish’ and ‘blossom’ came up a lot when people were describing the impact of Shared Lives. Shared Lives carer Shiri Vinten talked about how Shared Lives brought out sides of her family which she would never have known about without it. She told me she had asked her daughter, who now works in social care, whether that career had been her goal from an early age. Her daughter said, “It is something I’ve grown up with and have a lot of first-hand experience, so I believe it is only right that there is one less health professional… rather one more person looking out for the individual’s actual wishes. I don’t look at people from a professional perspective analysing their behaviour or medication requirements, rather who they are and what they like… They are just the same as you and me. People. I learned this through my mum and through Shared Lives.”

Judith Harris from the Fife Community Living scheme talked about the young lady who moved in with her three years ago, when Judith, who had retired from a long career in care and thought she’d be happy moving back up to Scotland and playing a lot of golf, decided she was bored: “I’ve seen this young lady blossom. She has a boyfriend; she’s discovered she can do things for herself, although sometimes like all young people she’d rather someone else did it for her!

“You don’t do this for nothing; you do get paid for it, but what you get back is greater than that: you can see someone having a life which they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. You get such a reward from knowing people, being fond of them. It gives you this feeling that you are doing something, giving something back. You don’t have to have certificates, but you need a great sense of humour, you need a bit of patience, and you need a lot of common sense.”

This was a sad as well as celebratory event for us. We have been unable to renew the funding for our Scotland Officer, Angus Greenshields and we were only able to fund Angus’ role from reserves for a short time, leaving us without funded work in Scotland at a crucial time, when